Life in Poland

Sorry For Squashing Your Culture

A summary and discussion of the paper by Fernando Ferreira and Joel Waldfogel, called “Pop Internationalism: Has a Half Century of World Music Trade Displaced Local Culture?” can be found on the Freakonomics blog here.

This paper refers to the influence of a dominant economy’s culture on the domestic culture of less influential countries. The influence on the music industry was used to explore this phenomenon, examining purchasing and airplay of foreign music and the homogenous sounds of pop and rock music the world over.

As I come from the said dominant culture, I have enjoyed this phenomenon without really thinking about its possible detrimental effects. I can listen to “my” music on MTV and on the radio. Even the Polish hits are so similar to “my” music, I sometimes hardly notice that the lyrics are in Polish. A nice thing in Poland (and in Europe) is that I can hear hits from France, from Germany, from Italy, etc. all on our local radio station. Does it matter that I have no idea what they are saying? Not really.

Does it matter that many Polish people have no idea what the American hip hop stars are saying? Not really, but it does get under my skin that for 3 months straight I had to listen to the “dirty” version of Snoop Dog’s “P.I.M.P”. every morning on the local radio station on my way to work .

It is nice for me that when my teenage students get beyond annoying, I can just throw out a question like, “Who’s better? Jacob or Edward?” or “What’s up with Justin Bieber’s hair?” They know what I am talking about better than I do, actually, but I think it has something to do with age, not nationality 😉

I like it that I can watch “my” sitcoms and “my” hospital drama. I used to watch Polish soap operas to sharpen my Polish language skills and to try to get an insight into Polish culture, but since I have been able to watch “my” shows, I have stopped watching Polish shows. And as for Polish sitcoms, I never started to watch them. I just can’t get into them and honestly speaking they cannot compare to “my” sitcoms (even or maybe especially the ones that were copies such as Nania (The Nanny) and Hela w opałach (Grace Under Fire). They try to be so much like “my” sitcoms that they often end up as caricatures.

I definitely do not watch any shows like Dancing with the Stars or You Can Dance. I don’t watch the American versions either to be fair. OK, strike that, I did watch Dancing with the Stars once, when Anna Mucha was on. I couldn’t resist. Her bottom in hot pants is so mesmerizing 🙂

And hence the question emerges, without the influence of “my” culture, would domestic cultures create cultural products (music, television, films, etc.) which are stronger, more original and more representative of their own culture? I mean, if my students and friends could not access Dr House and Lost the day after a new episode appears in America, would Poland produce its own original shows, just as entertaining as anything available in America. My students say “no”. They say that Poland would produce the same shyte, and we would have to pretend that we liked it because their wouldn’t be any other choice.

What do you think?

PS What I like from Polish popular culture:

I love to watch old Polish cabarets, for example “Tey” from the PRL-era especially the skit explaining where poverty comes from (skąd pochodzi bieda). Sometimes on the radio they play cabarets from the 40’s and 50’s. Awesome!

I like to listen to Maryla Rodowicz’s songs from any era. She is a superstar.

One of my most favorite love songs of all times is “Nie mogę Ci wiele dać” (I can’t give you much) by Perfect. It’s corny but those lyrics bring a tear to my eyes every time.

Druga strona medalu with Jolanta Pieńkowska and Szkło kontaktowe are two of my favorite TV shows. Szkło kontaktowe (Contact Lenses) is a kind of political talk show with a sense of humor and Druga strona medalu (The other side of the coin) is an interview program where the host Jolanta Pieńkowska earnestly interviews her guests. I feel that she asks all the questions I want to ask and some I haven’t even thought of asking, not like some talk shows in America that are getting so superficial. It’s as if the interview comes in 2nd to being able to show your face on TV.

As for films, I really like Sex Misja and yes I get that they were poking fun at communism.

I could go on, but I’ll give it a rest. I mean it is a national holiday today. I should be resting.

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  • Reply
    June 3, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    I think your students are wrong – we did not have access to American culture and yet we did produce not only Tey, but also some really great TV shows, movies and music – which kind of contradicts their opinion. I think the problem with Polish culture is that popular culture (or mass culture) is disregarded and therefore not paid proper attention to and so called high culture is only accessible (and interested, to be honest)to a small number of people. Those who are not so interested in high culture, but would expect something more engaging and not so daft from popular culture are left with nothing. Well, not much anyway.

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    June 3, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    I addictive to sitcoms. I have few polish ones, but I must say that the American are better. I don't know really why, but I consider polish a bit tandetne. Maybe it is because that polish sitcoms do not have the division on seasons. American ones do, and in fact the first and the last episode is the most dramatic and exciting so you anxiously wait for them. And if you miss few episodes you think that you have lost the storyline – in Polish, after 100 episodes missed, you quite easily come back to them.And hospital drama! I grew up on ER, I'm a fan of House and even greater fan of Grey's Anatomy… and polish ones? Oh yeah, \”na dobre i na złe\”, terrible and the scenes from the er without blood and the reality… or 'daleko od noszy' that for me is on the same low level as 'swiat wg kiepskich'…Do we can create sth good? Not quite sure. However, I do not like American comedies, they are mostly vulgar and stupid. On the other hand I hate also romantic comedies, both PL and USA. In Poland I guess there is tendency to divide films on those for general public that isn't nterested in culture, watches all sitcoms, all teleturnieje etc., and on those cultural ones that are hard to bear, and are full of martyrologia, pain and tragedy. Nothing in between. But, seriously – it is hard to create film about something new 🙁 To create anything, producers need money. To get sponsors they have to guarantee that the loan will be covered. So they need target group that will go to the cinema, or watch sitcoms (etc), so they usually create the same things to be sure they'll get sold. Sad but true.

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    June 4, 2010 at 5:43 am

    Kasia and ucieczka- You both make good points esp about the gap between high culture and popular culture. My plan is to support (as much as I can) Polish cultural products. Still, I have to admit that I enjoy the availability of American stuff in Poland. So let's say that is part of my culture. My children should have access to that too.

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